A pair of Bee Eaters in the wild

Wild Birds

At Farnless Farm Park we are recognised by The RSPB, Durham Bird Club and Natural England as probably the richest and most diverse farm in the North East of England for our wild birds.

In 2002 we hit the national news headlines as a breeding pair of Bee Eaters were found on the farm, thousands of peole from all over the country came to see this very rare sight and the RSPB took over our holiday cottage so as they had an onsite base. The Bee Eaters have never returned but with so many ornathologists onsite they made us aware of the sheer quantity of species we have. (need Bee Eater pic here).

The farm has  nearly 15 acres of dedicated wild bird seed plots as well as winter feeding stations and bird boxes. As you walk the farm look out for Corn Bunting, Grey Partridge, Lapwing, Tree Sparrows, Barn Owls and Kestrel, we would be grateful if you’d take a map on your walk and mark down the species you see.

Not to worry if your not a keen bird watcher as we have placed interpretation boards around the farm which show you pictures and tell you about the birds you’ll see. So feel free to investigate the farm but please take care as we are a working farm and please do not enter the parkland as the park animals can be very dangerous. Please also note that deer calves will go under the fences to hide in the long grass, they have not escaped and we’d be grateful if you’d quietly back away from them should you find one.

Farnless Farm and its ornithological importance

Farnless Farm was put on the ornithological map with the presence of a pair of Bee-eaters during the summer of 2002 going onto breed in a disused quarry, the first successful breeding in the UK for 50 years. The farm was certainly under watched but with a 24 hour watch species discovered within the quarry and farmland proved very excitingYellow Wagtail.

Durham Bird Club has surveyed the wetland called Stoney Beck Lake for a number of years and with the farmer (Stuart and Daphnie Anderson) going under the Countryside Stewardship the area was to be put under a research project by DEFRA under the scheme. Up until the end of 2007 the site has become the most important site in county Durham for the serious declining Corn Bunting the Bishop Middleham area is the last stronghold for the species with farnless holding up to15 territorial males representing 20% of the counties population.

As well as the Corn Bunting the site holds some very important populations of farmland birds including 10 pairs of the nationally declining Yellow Wagtail, 40 pairs of Skylark, 6 pairs of Yellowhammer, 8 pairs of Grey Partridge, 6 pairs of Tree Sparrow, 2 pairs of Little Owl single pairs of Kestrel, Tawny Owl and up to 10 pairs of Linnet and Whitethroat.

The wetland is a very important site with a wide range of wildfowl and waders 12 pairs of Lapwing regularly breed with 2 pairs of Redshank, Snipe, Curlew and Oystercatcher with a regular pair of Little Ringed Plover. Mallard, Little Grebe, Shoveler, Teal, Tufted Duck, and Shelduck all breed. Rare birds of prey and owls are seen most years with Sparrowhawk, Marsh Harrier, Peregrine, Common Buzzard, Hobby, and Short Eared Owl with some staying to breed.

During the autumn and winter month’s large numbers of wildfowl and waders visit the area with Golden Plover, Graylag and Canada geese, Stock Dove, Grey Heron and Pied Wagtail. Rarities can be noted with species such as Temminks Stint, Little Egret, Lesser Scaup, Turtle Dove and Black Necked Grebe.

The farm is a wonderful place for birds and with the enthusiasm of the owners new habitats have been created and managed to allow birds to thrive.

John Olley Conservation Officer
Durham Bird Club

Corn BuntingThe Corn Bunting, Miliaria calandra, is a passerine Corn Buntingbird in the bunting family Emberizidae, a group now separated by most modern authors from the finches, Fringillidae. It is the sole member of the genus Miliaria, although a few authorities place it in the large genus Emberiza.

It breeds across southern and central Europe, north Africa and Asia across to Mongolia. It is mainly resident, but some birds from colder regions of central Europe and Asia migrate southwards in winter.

The Corn Bunting is a bird of open country with trees, such as farmland and weedy wasteland. It has declined greatly in northwest Europe due to intensive agricultural practices depriving it of its food supply of weed seeds and insects, the latter especially when feeding young.

This is an unusual bunting because the sexes appear similar in plumage, although the males are approximately 20% larger than females. This large bulky bunting is 16-19cm long, has male and female plumages similar, and lacks the showy male colours, especially on the head, common in the genus Emberiza. Both sexes look something like larks, with streaked grey-brown above, and whitish underparts.

The Tree Sparrow

Tree SparrowThe Tree Sparrow Passer montanus is 12.5–14 cm long. The adult's crown and nape are rich chestnut, and on the white cheeks and ear-coverts there is a triangular black patch; the chin and throat are black. Two distinct though narrow white bars cross the brown wings. In summer the bill is lead-blue, and in winter almost black. The legs are pale brown and the irides hazel. The sexes are practically alike.Animal fact

The young, even in the nest, closely resemble their parents. They are said to be duller, and the face pattern is less distinct. The breast and belly are browner than in the adult.

The Tree Sparrow's voice is more shrill than the House Sparrow's; the call is a shorter chip, and the song, consisting of modulated chirps, is more musical.
This bird is often confused with the larger House Sparrow, but its rich brown, almost coppery head, the black patch on its white cheeks, and the double white wing bar, together with its slighter and more graceful build, are distinctive.

Do your bit
If you want to help wild birds then please look at the RSPB website (www.rspb.org.uk) for ways to get involved or contact you local bird club, if its simply a case of something at home why not buy a bird table or how about making a bird box for a tree sparrow using our simple directs below this can be a fun and rewarding project.


Grey Partridge: The Grey Partridge, Perdix perdix also known as the English Partridge, Hungarian Partridge or Hun is a gamebird in the pheasant family Phasianidae of the order Galliformes, gallinaceous birds.
This partridge breeds on farmland across most of Europe into western Asia, and has been introduced widely into North America and are quite common in some areas of southern Canada and the northern United States. Hens lay up to twenty eggs in a ground nest. The nest is usually in the margin of a cereal field, most commonly Winter wheat. It is a non-migratory terrestrial species, which forms flocks outside the breeding season.Grey Partridge

It is declining greatly in numbers in areas of intensive cultivation such as Great Britain, due to loss of breeding habitat and food supplies. The numbers have fallen by 85% in the last 25 years. Efforts are being made in Great Britain by organisations such as the Game Conservancy Trust to halt the decline by creating Conservation headlands. In 1995 it was nominated a Biodiversity Action plan species.

The Grey Partridge is a rotund bird, 28-32 cm long, brown-backed, with grey flanks and chest. The belly is white, usually marked with a large chestnut-brown horse-shoe mark in males, but also in many females. The only major and constant difference between the sexes is the so-called cross of Lorraine on the tertiary coverts of females - these being marked with two transverse bars, as opposed to the one in males. These are present after around 16 weeks of age when the birds have moulted into adult plummage. Young Grey Partridges are esentally yellow-brown, and lack the distinctive face and underpart markings. The song is a harsh kieerr-ik.
When disturbed, like most of the gamebirds, it flies a short distance on rounded wings, often calling rick rick rick as it rises.

This is a seed-eating species, but the young in animal factparticular take insects as an essential protein supply. During the first 10 days of life, the young can only digest insects. The parents lead their chicks to the edges of cereal fields, where they can forage for insects.

How to build a bird box

How to make a birdbox (diagram)


A list of birds seen in around Farnless Farm

Little Grebe up to 40 2005 also 2007 40 castle Lake
Great Crested Grebe nested Stoney beck 2003 castle Lake 2007
Black Necked Grebe…..3 Bred 2005 castle lake
Cormorant now regular 2 to 3 castle lake
Grey Heron
White Stork May 2007 unringed
Little Egret 2 on Stoney beck lake, 3 on castle lake sept 07
Mute Swan
Whooper Swan 3 also 6 2006 and 07
Bewicks Swan 22 2004
Pink Footed Goose
Bean Goose
Egyptian goose 1 on Stoney beck 2 on Castle Lake August 07
Greylag Goose 400+
Canada Goose .42
Barnacle Goose 30
Garganey 3 on Castle lake 2005, drake May 07
Shelduck .40+
Gadwall bred 2004 and 2005, 2006 and 2007
Wigeon up to 500
Teal 1000+ A1 flashes
Lesser Scaup Stoney Beck 2004
Common Scoter castle lake 2003
Shoveler 1 to 3 pairs breed
Tufted Duck
Ruddy Duck
Kestrel 6
Hobby Juv 9/9/00 Adults 2004 and 2005,06 and 07
Common Buzzard
Marsh HarrierFarnless Farm 2006
Hen Harrier
Grey Partridge 34
Common Crane 2 years in succession (Autumn)
Ringed Plover
Little Ringed Plover 2 to 4 pairs regularly breed
Golden Plover 600
Lapwing .800+
Little Stint 2 on castle lake 07
Temminks Stint 2 on 19/5/04 Stoney beck
Curlew Sandpiper
Dunlin regular every year
Ruff 30+
Snipe 30+
Curlew 30+
Whimbrel 1 on  August 4, 2005
Greater Yellowlegs Oct 1999?
Spotted Redshank
Redshank over 100 winter to spring
Greenshank 12 max together…04
Pectoral Sandpiper 9/9/00 and sept 14/9/07
Green Sandpiper 5 regular some winter
Wood Sandpiper 2 on 8/9/00 and 10 2003 castle lake
Common Sandpiper
Black Tailed Godwit 2005,6 and 07
Mediterranean Gull
Black Headed Gull 300+
Little Gul May 2006
Common Gul 200+


Lesser Black Backed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black Backed Gull
Ringed Billed Gull 2004
Common Tern…2003 and 2006 pair June 2007
Black Tern summer 2004
Stock Dove
Wood Pigeon
Turtle DoveFarnless Stoney Beck 2006…Castle lake sept 07
Collared Dove
Cuckoo Juvenile Castle lake July 2007
Long Eared Owl….Railway line
Short Eared Owl…Railway Line
Little Owl…up to 8+ pairs
Barn Owl Farnless Farm 2006
Tawny Owl 
Kingfisher .successful breeding 2004 and 2005, 2006 and 07
Bee-Eater visited Stoney beck .2002
Green Woodpecker July 2005 and 2007
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Sand Martin 200 to 300 late summer 2005
House Martin
Meadow Pipit
Yellow Wagtail 18 pair +
Grey Wagtail
Pied Wagtail .very high numbers 150 +
Waxwing village 2004
Whinchat passage
Wheatear large numbers 40  2007
Song Thrush
Mistle Thrush
Garden Warbler
Willow Warbler
Long Tailed Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Coal Tit
Willow Tit
Raven quarry 2005
Carrion Crow
House Sparrow
Tree Sparrow .good numbers 40 +
Goldfinch 300+
Crossbill .6 in 2004
Reed Bunting increasing
Corn Bunting 30+ pairs breeding

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